Jeff Harding
December 29th, 2020

When I wrote my 2019 review article for YS this time last year, I said, “When looking ahead, we must start with taking inventory of where we have been.” The onset of COVID-19 has many of us wishing to quickly move on from where we have been for the majority of 2020. 

The loss of income and security economically, the mental and emotional anguish stemming from social isolation, and the burden of extra care alongside mourning for those we know who have fallen ill or passed away due to COVID has been anything but a breeze. 

Moreover, the weight of COVID feels especially heavy here in the United States, which leads the world in cases and deaths. At the time of writing this article, the U.S. has 8 million more cases (7 times the infection rate) and more than twice as many deaths (9 times the death rate) as India…with 1.1 billion less people.

In the midst of that pandemic weight, we as youth workers need to recognize and adapt to social development and a ministry field forever changed by all that’s happened.

Here are 5 ways adolescence and youth culture have changed because of COVID-19.

The generation with the most anxiety and depression in history now has even more anxiety and depression.

You probably saw this point coming from a mile away. With as much attention as the mental health of Gen Z has received, it should come as no surprise that the dropping hammers of restricted to no physical contact, upheaval of social and educational environments, and big events (family/school/church) being seriously modified or cancelled has not exactly provided encouragement for the state of their mental health.

Depending on the specific age group and study, anxiety and depression rates within teens and young adults have tripled or even quadrupled in response to everything surrounding COVID.

We can’t believe the lie that bringing up mental health will make it worse.

Partner with your fellow workers, parents, and professionals, and help them.

Teenagers have found the limitations of online relationships, and the response is two-fold.

Sadly, it seems that while many teens and students in our ministries have come to realize how online relationships can’t replace fully present, interactive, face-to-face relationships, they don’t quite know the next step.

I have personally observed and heard from others about the increased desire for in-person gathering; however, it appears that realizing the technical limitations has also fueled the previously mentioned anxiety and depression while they ironically maintain their online presence.

We must remember that Gen Z, and Generation Alpha behind them, have a connection and dependence on technology that surpasses any previous benchmark. In response, we have seen digital church resources surge along with efforts to maintain in-person ministry gatherings. This is a prime opportunity to clearly demonstrate how online interaction can be a great supplement, and even a pandemic necessity for healthy relationships.

However, the discovered limits show why they can’t replace how relationships were designed for us by God.

Reluctance to reach out and engage with those outside of comfortable social circles has lessened.

Both online and in-person, teenagers seem to feel more comfortable talking to and hanging out with others who might only have some subtle connection through another friend or common interest (sports, anime, gaming, etc.).

The messaging platform Discord, which has grown by 2.3 million active servers since 2018 and almost doubled its monthly active users from 56 to 100 million since 2019, is just one indicator. How we can capitalize on this relational momentum for the sake of gospel outreach and establishing healthy communities?

Educational supplements are no longer simply a norm, but practically a necessity.

According to UNESCO, close to 307 million children are out of school worldwide due to COVID closures. Early on in the pandemic, parents soon recognized the dire need for instructive methods beyond kitchen table laptops and Google Classroom.

Tutoring and homeschooling options have skyrocketed, and we should be looking into how we can offer help with education to teens in our community.

More than ever, teenagers are in need of healthy and consistent guidance amidst cultural bombardment.

Okay, this last point isn’t a researched statistic. Perhaps it’s even a well-intentioned but tired cliché that you’ve read in articles and heard from pulpits for years.

However, if we as followers of Jesus know that His return gets closer with each passing day, we need to plant ourselves and our teenagers in Scripture and God’s promises.

It’s tempting to simply reduce everything about COVID (and 2020 overall) into funny memes as a way to cope. While that’s one extreme to avoid, we shouldn’t swing to the other extreme of wallowing in sorrow. COVID and 2020 aren’t likely to be the worst things that happen to these teenagers, so we need to supply them with the right perspective. 

We just finished Advent. It’s the beginning of the Church calendar, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – the object of our hope, the source of peace, the reason we have joy, and the only way of salvation to the Father.

As messengers of that good news, we should comfort and minister to teenagers while moving them forward with us, knowing God has more in store for our good and His glory.

Let’s walk with our students into the new year with hopeful anticipation.

Jeff Harding

Jeff is a 17-year youth ministry veteran. He’s a Phoenix native, ASU Sun Devil, Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and Chipotle fanatic. He currently serves as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries, as well as the youth minister at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX. You can also hear him on his weekly podcast, Youth Ministry Maverick, at youthministrymaverick.com or wherever you stream podcasts.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.